Family trip to Washington DC and Marine Corps Marathon Race Recap

3 days post marathon, I am sitting on my couch right foot propped up with frozen cherries on a swollen ankle, replaying the race in my head mile by mile.  Fortunately, much of the swelling has already gone down and I can finally walk without a limp.   The aftermath of chasing a sub-4:00 finish which I proudly achieved!  Let me backtrack to the day when we arrived in DC.

Bear with me as this will be a longer than usual post.

Friday, 23Oct:  Landed at Ronald Reagan airport around 5pm.  The girls did awesome on the plane and I dozed a little when my youngest finally settled down towards the end of the flight.  After hours of sitting, I was ready to stretch out my legs and walk to the airport Metro station.  With my 2 year old in a front-facing carrier, we walked quite a distance from the Southwest terminal (Terminal A which is the furthest from the station) that my shoulders and back were killing me by the time we arrived at the Metro.  Note to self:  Bring an umbrella stroller next time we travel!

My 5 yr old covering her sensitive ears!

The girls were elated to ride the train as this is a novel experience for them.   3 stops later, we arrived at our hotel, the Holiday Inn Capitol, only a block away from the L’Enfant Plaza Station and a few blocks away from the National Mall. This is a hotel I definitely recommend to those who plan to run MCM in the future.  The accommodations were excellent – we were in a 2-queen bed room spacious enough for the four of us.  The only downside was our room was facing a railway that a few instances overnight we heard trains pass by.  They did provide earplugs (and a sleepmask) for a good night slumber so using the plugs would have helped.  I think I was too tired that it didn’t even bother me.

We had dinner plans with a friend at District of Pi, a highly rated pizza place near the Gallery – Chinatown metro and acclaimed to be a favorite of the President.  I had a delicious kale salad with quinoa and chickpeas and 3 slices of “The Hill” thin-crust pizza.  Time to load up on carbs!

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Saturday 24Oct:. Expo day.  Without setting an alarm, I allowed myself the luxury of sleeping in or until the kids woke up.  Surprisingly, I was up before anyone else around 8:30am.  Guess the kids are still on west coast time.  I felt invigorated with more than 8 hrs of sleep.  The past week I probably averaged 6 hrs or maybe even less because of our toddler frequent night wakings.  I feared my lack of sleep will affect race day that I had to make it up somehow and last night did it for me😆

After a quick breakfast of coffee, fruit and bagel, we made our way to the expo around 10am.  From the convention center metro stop, it was probably a 10-15 min walk to the hall where the expo was held.  The lines to the bib and shirt pick-up were sparse so it was a quick process.  I didn’t want to inconvenience my family with having to shop around for a shirt (which I wanted) especially with the long check out lines.  I figured I can shop online a couple of weeks later at possibly a discounted price.  We did circle around the various vendors where it got really crowded but scored giveaway samples of salted caramel ice cream. A perk the girls enjoyed.

Lafayette Square

A little bit of sightseeing was next on our agenda.  The White House was less than a mile away so we walked there from the convention center.  I had no plans for a shakeout run prior to the race and figured a walk would be sufficient.  The autumn foliage was a rare sight for us since we never experience the seasons living in San Diego.  Eyva loved the colorful leaves and even brought one home as a souvenir.

Look at the marvelous red and orange tree!

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Lunch was a BBQ joint, Hill Country BBQ in the Penn Quarter where my daughter and I shared a chicken, baked beans and cornbread muffins. The beans were my favorite but I avoided indulging to prevent any tummy troubles on race day.  The restaurant was a 15 min walk back to the hotel through the National Mall so we continued on foot to see more of the city.  While my husband detoured to the Air and Space Museum with the kids, I stayed in our room to rest my legs.  It was already mid-afternoon and I needed to be off my feet for a few hours before dinner.

My pre-race dinner was low key.  I wanted pasta but after searching online none of the Italian restaurants appealed to me – it was either too expensive, far from a metro station or not kid-friendly.  I opted for Gordon Biersch in the same area as the pizza place we visited on Friday.  We love to try local restaurants when traveling but this was the most convenient choice.  I had the Linguini Primavera (Mushrooms, snap peas, green beans and grilled asparagus tossed with balsamic vinegar, garlic butter, tomatoes and linguini, topped with crumbled feta and fresh basil). Tasty but could have used less butter.

We returned to the hotel around 9pm and got my gear ready for race day.  Alarm was set to 4:30am.  In bed by 10:30pm.

My RED, WHITE, and BLUE race attire

25Oct: RACE DAY!  Up a few minutes before the alarm.  Quietly, I got dressed and had a whole-grain bagel with peanut butter and banana along with a drink of Nuun.  I didn’t want to wake up the family brewing coffee so I skipped my usual morning cup of joe.  The jolt I felt from nerves and adrenaline was enough to get me through the morning.  By 5:30am, I left the hotel to walk to the metro.  It was eerily quiet without a soul on the street which made me a little nervous walking alone, but I made it to the metro safely where many runners waited for the next train to arrive.

Pentagon Station was only one stop away.  I followed the crowd of runners make a beeline route to the security checkpoint. I didn’t check the time but it was probably around 6am at this point.  It took approximately 30-45min to go through security and during this time I can feel my anxiety building up, so I distracted myself by eavesdropping at other people’s conversations.  Once inside the Runner’s Village, it was all about staying warm and dry under one of the two tents set up.

Staying dry and hydrating

There were plenty of porta-potties available without the long lines around this time.  It must have been due to the significant delay at the security checkpoint which caused many runners to arrive at the starting corrals later than planned.  I wasn’t aware of the situation until I read an article online by Runner’s World.

At 7:20am, I dropped off my bag and walked to the starting corral where I spotted the 4hr pace group led by a bubbly energetic girl named Star.  She sounded really motivated and ready to lead our group.  While we waited for the start gun, our attention turned to the fascinating sight of paratroopers in the sky with American flags attached to their bodies circling above us. Unfortunately, I left my phone in my drop-off bag to avoid the risk of it getting wet so I couldn’t document any parts of the race at this point.

7:55am:  The sound of the howitzer firing echoed and somehow during the walk towards the start line, I got separated from the pace group.  I could still their sign so I managed to keep an eye on them during the first couple of miles.  One big issue was to keep up with the planned pace of 9:10/mi, we had to dodge and circle around runners who lined up closer to the start line to “beat the bridge” – where you have to be at the bridge to Crystal City (approx mi 20) at a certain time or you are picked up by a bus to transport you to the finish line.  I actually spotted a lady already walking wearing a “Beat the Bridge” shirt and we haven’t even passed mile 1 yet.  Makes me wonder if she made it to the bridge?…

The biggest hill on the course (climb up to 250ft) was around mile 2 – it was positioned well for those who start out too fast (ME usually) and I used it to control my pace while trying to stay alongside the 4-hr pace group.  Even at this point, I found it was a struggle to hang out with the group as the course was very crowded.  If I didn’t keep my eyes in front, I would have tripped over several people.  So, by mile 3 I decided to leave the pace group and run on my own.  It took more energy to continue to adjust my pace to stay with them.  Plus I felt strong and had the confidence I can actually run at a much faster pace. The next 10 miles I was in cruise mode as we ran past Georgetown where we were greeted by the first slew of enthusiastic spectators with loud cheers for us along the way.  As we meandered towards Rock Creek Parkway, bursts of color from the fall foliage welcomed us, quite idyllic with the leaves glistening after the rainfall and only the shuffling of runners and breaths taken were heard.  Mesmerized by this beautiful scenery, I ran the fastest miles of the race during this part of the course (between 8:20 – 8:30, miles 6-10).

Mile 12, referred to as the “Blue Mile” was an emotional section of the course lined with poster photographs of fallen service members displayed in remembrance of their bravery and sacrifice to protect our nation.  As I ran by each photograph, I thought about these young men and women (most were in their 20s) and the family and friends they left behind who are probably still in mourning and I was filled with gratitude to have the chance to honor them on this run.  At the end of the mile, the course was lined with volunteers carrying the American flag and according to the Wear Blue website, each flag is draped with a black ribbon with the name of a fallen service member (I didn’t notice the black ribbon but I wasn’t looking for it either).  Feeling sad and heartbroken, I crossed the halfway point at 1:55.

Final 13 miles to go – this is when I started to have conversations in my head.  *How am I feeling?  Feeling good and relaxed.   Not gasping for air yet.  *Does any part of my body hurt?  Left hamstring somewhat tight but not bothersome.  *Will I continue to sustain this pace or should I slow down to reserve energy for the last 10k?  Run by effort – stop checking your watch!

Miles 18 and 19 were along the National Mall and the points where I expected to see my family.  I indicated specific times to my husband on the course map so he knew exactly where to look for me.  At mile 17, I picked up my pace averaging 8:35 as my excitement built up thinking about seeing my girls.  My eyes were glued to the right side of the road afraid I would miss them since this was a popular part of the course filled with hundreds of spectators.  I passed mile 18 with no sight of them and I started to feel doubtful.  However, on the other side of the mall close to the Air and Space Museum, I heard my husband cheering “Go Mama Go!”  Elated to see them, I stopped to give each of my girls a quick hug.  My youngest had a displeased look on her face as I said to her “See you at the finish line!”  With 7 miles to go, I know the end is near but the hardest part of the course is coming up.

After being surrounded by crowds of people screaming and clapping, the silence on the bridge to Crystal City around mile 20 was disheartening.  This is when I dug deep to stay in control of my pace and started counting down the miles.  Once in Crystal City, it was great to see more spectators lined up on the course.  At this point both my hamstrings felt tight and I hit my slowest pace at mile 23 (9:23/mi).  Granted, the course from miles 21-23 was a slight uphill.

Push, push, push was my mantra and so I did during the final 3 miles.  The descent helped as I managed to maintain an avg 8:50/mi pace.  The course started to look familiar as we entered the Pentagon’s north parking lot where I walked hours ago pass security on the way to the Runners village.   It felt as though it took me longer to run the route.  I knew the finish line was near yet it was nowhere in sight and I forgot about the turn to the final uphill right before the finish.  The hill was short and the gain was probably 30ft(?) but to my legs it was an incredible feat.  I picked up my feet the best I could to “sprint” to the finish line and FINISHED in 3:51:16!!!

After crossing the finish line, I limped towards one of the uniformed officers who shook my hand and presented me with this heavy 3-dimensional medal of the Marine Corps’ Eagle, Globe and Anchor icon.  Then I headed over to the best finisher photo op standing in front of the Marine Corps War Memorial.  What a priceless and memorable experience!

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